Money Saving Guide for Students

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The college years are a time of self-discovery for many young adults. It is when students learn the finer points of independence, financial management and life planning, balanced with the promise of a carefree lifestyle. With some discipline and effort, the cost for learning these life lessons can be minimized.

Get Your Four-Year Degree in, Well, Four Years
College is fun. But it’s also expensive, very expensive. In addition to the high annual cost, Forbes reports that only 49 percent of incoming freshmen will graduate on time, if ever. Now, some college students might think it’s a great idea to take an extra year to “find themselves” for just a bit longer while they delay the launch of their adult lives. The problem with that line of thinking is that the fifth year is just as expensive as the fourth: tuition, room and board, as well as supplies. Then there’s the loss of the salary you would have earned in that fifth year if you had already graduated. With the five-year plan, you start your career deeper in the red, having paid much more for the same degree than your four-year classmates.

Learn to Avoid Debt
Make sure you understand how credit cards work. College students should take care to avoid the debt trap of shiny new credit cards that seems too much like free money. Debit cards and reloadable cards have an advantage because you spend what you have and that’s it. If you do get a credit card, shop around for one with the most favorable terms – interest, fees and rewards – rather than the one giving away the best T-shirt. And, by all means, pay off the balance every month.

Make a Budget and Track Your Spending
If you’re the responsible type, you’ll quickly learn how to make a budget and stick to it. Let’s be honest, eating Ramen noodles gets old quickly. Developing a budget and tracking the associated spending will help hone your financial management skills both for today and the future. This will be trial and error – we get that. But it’s best to try and fail and learn hard lessons during this time of your life, instead of when you’re married with student loans, a mortgage, car payment and a host of other financial responsibilities.

Watch What You Eat
One of the biggest expenses for college students is food. Whether it’s a campus meal plan, grabbing takeout food in between classes or eating out with friends each night, food can be expensive. Learning to shop smartly, cook and keeping snacks in your backpack can help you save a ton of money in college.

Free and Cheap Stuff
The typical campus is teeming with free and discounted things to do. Going to the movies? The on-campus theater will be the cheapest place in town. Want to join a gym? You may already have when you paid your tuition. How about free tech support for your computer at some colleges? Off campus, students can save with everything from student discounts at local stores to the student edition of Microsoft Office software.

Compare Prices on Textbook Options
The only thing worse than lugging heavy textbooks around campus is paying for them. Fortunately, you have alternatives to buying new books. You could rent books or buy them used from the campus bookstore. Compare the bookstore’s prices with websites that rent textbooks. Or you can forgo the paper-and-ink textbook and get an electronic version of certain textbooks from websites like Barnes & Noble.

Protect Your Credit Card
Take care of your credit card, debit card and student card. Now that you’re a brand new adult with pristine new credit, you are ripe for the picking by identity thieves. Before discarding documents, shred any that contain information such as your name, address, date of birth and other identifying information. Get in the habit of checking your credit report for unusual activity to stop fraud as early as possible.